Friday, April 11, 2014

"Do you love me?"

A scene keeps playing in my mind similar to when Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” asks his wife of 25 years whom he first met on their wedding day, “Do you love me?  However, instead of Tevye asking his wife this question, in my daydream it is me asking it of Pope Francis, the bishops and clergy.  And, instead of the touchingly awkward but sincere affirmative response Tevye gets from Golde, his wife, I just get dropped jaws accompanied by terrified looks with eyes darting wildly about in search of an escape route.  This daydream evidently is a musical because at this very moment I hear Earth, Wind and Fire singing the lyric from the song “Can’t Hide Love” that goes, “You turn down love like it’s really bad; you can’t give away what you never had.

What’s wrong with this picture?  The clergy say they are married to me as a member of the Church yet I cannot imagine one bishop, including Pope Francis, looking me or most of their flock squarely in the eye and saying, “I love you” with any degree of depth or sincerity.  I think even my own bishop, with whom I have very amicable relations, would be very, very, very uncomfortable telling me he loved me if, in fact, he does.  And regardless of if he thinks he loves me, I think he’d turn on me in a heartbeat if preserving his esteem with the hierarchy called for it.

I ask you to imagine yourself standing before your bishop, eye-to-eye, asking that question.  What do you envision as the response?  Am I wrong to surmise that most people imagine scenes like the one I do…where men who claim to be the world’s greatest experts on and advocates for love dance around in nervous evasion of it, seemingly incapable of imitating Christ’s passionate sincere expression of it...especially towards women?

The bishops these days sound a little like Dire Straits wistfully singing the line, “so far away from me…” as though their children have abandoned them.  But, they seem to lack the self-awareness to realize that the majority of members are actually singing the same line right back to them, “You’re so far away from me – so far I just can’t see. 

I wonder if subconsciously we know that if like Tevye we asked of our bishops, “Do you love me,” we would hear thunderous silence – a response which would speak louder than their words.  And again borrowing from Earth, Wind and Fire, “Ain’t it funny how the way you feel shows on your face?  And no matter how hard you try to hide it states your case?  I am tempted to ask my bishop this question just to weigh his facial expression.  Without saying a word, it will state his case no matter how hard he tries to hide it.

My daydream continues with me standing in calm serenity waiting for the bishops’ responses when I suddenly hear Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sing a compelling question at me, “Who loves you pretty baby?  Who’s gonna help you through the night?  Who loves you pretty momma?  Who’s always there to make it right? 

Rather than seeing bishops “always making it right”, scenes dance through my head of bishops paying lobbyists and lawyers to defeat child protection legislation and abuse lawsuits so that they always make things right for church monies instead of church members.  Similarly I recall them paying lobbyists to enact legislation that denies women’s rights as well as their traditional condescending metaphorical pats on women’s heads trying to usher them back into subservient roles.  And I hear myself answering the question, "Who loves you?" with flat, unemotional, realism in my response, “Evidently, not them.”

For the bishops to express their love for me with any credibility, I would need to see them capable of healing abuse victims by doing as Jackson Browne sings, “reaching into the heart of the darkness from a tenderness within…” or mimic the passionate devotion and care expressed by the Proclaimers in the song, “I’m Gonna Be”, “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door…  Rather than spend money on their trinkets, buildings, and bling as well as initiatives that harm me and my loved ones, I’d see them live the lyric, “and when the money comes in for the work I do I will pass almost every penny on to you.” Instead of owning one or more mansions, they’d be helping house, clothe and feed those without.  And, before someone sings the praises of Catholic Charities, please note that the vast majority of that money comes from governmental agencies – not the bishops.  And what money does get routed from church coffers to Catholic Charities is a sad, small fraction…far from “almost every penny.”

So here we are with many if not most people disheartened because they feel they pour their love into the Church without receiving reciprocal love from those who claim to lead the Church.  It’s as Dire Straits sings, they’re “tired of being in love and being all alone.” Similarly, they see Pope Francis omit Fr. Tom Doyle from this new child abuse commission despite Tom being one of the strongest if not the strongest advocate for child abuse victims and they hear Big Country singing, “another promise fallen through – another season passes by you.

We see a couple of reactions by the disheartened masses, one being akin to Aaron Neville singing, “I’m gonna love you even if my heart would break.  These folks try to show the hierarchy a bridge to the future, wincing through their shortcomings.  But others feel taking that approach would cause them to teeter too close to co-dependent behavior, working hard in a grossly imbalanced relationship trying to receive the love of men who seem afraid of it or incapable of giving it.  I envision those folks singing along with “Big Country”, “I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered but you can’t stay here when every single hope you had shattered.  Those folks are already crossing the bridge into the future.  They see the bishops as having strayed too far away from them to pursue them anymore.

So, who is the enemy?  Is it our apathy ignoring abuse victims’ healing needs?  Is it our desire to downplay the abuse crisis because we are too tired to deal with it and want it to be over? Is it our “go along to get along” mentality that sometimes enables injustice or disables love?  Is it our ability to rationalize funding the institutional church despite seeing its many corrupt practices?  Is it our willingness to let men who seem incapable of deep love co-opt authority and declare themselves the supreme discerners and defenders of it?

Let’s return to Tevye for a moment.  He asked his wife, “Do you love me?” because he saw bit by bit that the “Tradition” he once heralded as a life-stabilizing force is incompatible with love.  He realized that to love sincerely he had to depart from Tradition.

The two great commandments are to love God and love God’s people.  If our Catholic traditions are incompatible with loving others, then they must be dropped.  Maybe this is why Jesus asks, “and why do you break God’s commandments for the sake of your tradition?”  And maybe this is why we must never tire of calmly and steadily asking it of the bishops.

By the way, Jesus also asked Peter, “Do you love me?”  Unlike today’s bishops, Peter was able to express his love credibly.  And when he did, Jesus told him to feed (not fire….not excommunicate…not starve…) his sheep (John 21:15-17).

And so to my bishops and Pope Francis I ask, “Do you love me?”  If the answer is “yes,” how would I know based upon your track records?  If the answer is “no” then what are you doing in your positions?

But, on the flip side, are the laity able to love the bishops and pope despite their many shortcomings and knowing full well that this love probably won't be reciprocated?

By the way, this blog post is brought to you courtesy of the shuffle mode on my iPod.


  1. I think your expectations are too high. Soon after Jesus left this Earth, the winning faction of the faith quickly took on the robes of the Pharisees.

  2. I think the answer would be in the form of a lecture about how I'm in the wrong to feel unloved. With a slight detour to even if no one else loved me God still does. They do love to tell me constantly how wrong I am.

  3. I feel this way about the hierarchy, but not about my fellow parishioners. It's rather like being in a dysfunctional family.

  4. How can the expert on Child Abuse be left off the Committee

    Seems very odd to me. And when are those guilty bishops who tried
    to coverup things going to be punished. They are the guilty.